The end of the 2009 season -- finished off with a pile of pinstriped players partying on the field at Yankee Stadium -- officially brings the beginning of the Hot Stove season. For the Blue Jays, the goal is finding a way to somehow close the competitive gap between themselves and their crown-clinching American League East rivals from the Bronx.
One step in that process is evaluating the current crop of free agents potentially up for grabs this winter. Over the next 15 days, teams have exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents. Beginning on Nov. 20, free agents can receive offers from all clubs.
Blue Jays rookie general manager Alex Anthopoulos, who will likely reveal his plan for 2010 this weekend, has indicated that Toronto has interest in bringing back free-agent catcher Rod Barajas and shortstops Marco Scutaro and John McDonald. Simply having interest does not necessarily mean that all three players will be back in a Blue Jays uniform for next season.
"As much as I like John McDonald, Rod Barajas and Marco Scutaro," Anthopoulos told the Canadian Press earlier this week, "there might be alternatives that make this organization better and are the right alternatives for this team. We'd like to bring them back, [but] everything has to fit with respect to what the alternatives are and with respect to what their financial requirements are.
"I'm starting to get a pretty good handle on where their expectations are with respect to the market and what they feel their value might be."
Also being taken into consideration is the value the players have for the Blue Jays.
The 34-year-old Scutaro is coming off a career year in which he is expected to be classified as a Type A free agent -- something the Jays did not anticipate. If Toronto offers Scutaro arbitration and he declines and signs with another team, Toronto would be in line to receive a pair of compensatory picks (potentially a first-round selection and a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds) in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft in June.
After a career spent primarily as a utility player, Scutaro thrived in a full-time role in 2009, hitting .282 with a .379 on-base percentage as the Jays' starting shortstop and leadoff man. While earning just $1.1 million, Scutaro established or matched career bests with 12 home runs, 35 doubles, 60 RBIs, 14 stolen bases, 90 walks and 100 runs scored.
Barajas, 34, is eligible this offseason, likely as a Type B free agent, meaning the Blue Jays could receive a sandwich pick in the next Draft if he signs elsewhere. In 2009, during which Barajas earned $2.5 million after Toronto elected to exercise the club option in his contract, the catcher hit .226 with 19 homers and a career-high 71 RBIs in a personal-best 125 games.
The 35-year-old McDonald made $1.9 million in 2009 in the final season under a two-year contract, but the veteran infielder had limited playing time. McDonald's 151 at-bats and 35 starts were his fewest since he played for Cleveland in 2004. McDonald -- known more for his skill on defense than at the plate -- hit .258 with four homers and 13 RBIs over 73 games.
The Jays also have a free agent in veteran first baseman Kevin Millar, who is coming off a forgettable season with Toronto. After signing a Minor League contract with the club last winter and making the roster out of Spring Training, Millar hit just .223 in 78 games. Toronto does not plan on re-signing him.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.